Schoolzone blog: Practical assessments back on the cards?

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28 Jan 2015

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According to the Guardian, Nicky Morgan has publicly rebuked Ofqual for its decision to remove practical assessment in science A-levels and its proposals to do the same for GCSE. However, the speech which the paper refers to, while it certainly expresses concern over this move, does not exactly rebuke Ofqual, nor expressly call for practical assessments to be replaced in A-level assessments.

Morgan talks about ways for the scientific community and Ofqual finding a way to work together, but they've already done this, in coming up with the 12 experiments model to ensure that, even if it's not assessed, practical work is still taken seriously. Schools can impose their own stipulations on students without the need for the cumbersome bureaucracy of externally set and internally marked practicals.

When we asked our science teachers about this issue in the A-level consultation period, they said that yes, they were worried that practical skills development would be taken less seriously by students if it weren't assessed, but on balance they preferred the options of having set practicals but without the hassle of external assessments, which are considered wasteful of time, distrusted because other schools can cheat and which don't necessarily focus on important skills anyway.

Meanwhile, the scientific community has indeed taken the opposite view, but this may be based on an exaggerated view of practical science in schools - they tend to see it at its best. The reality is - and I say this as an ex-head of science - that science practicals (let alone assessed practicals) often waste time and divert teachers' energies away from learning. The skills which are assessed are those which can be assessed, not those which are most useful for developing an understanding of science. The set practicals model (unassessed) allows teachers to focus on more appropriate skills.

It seems that external agencies see the tail wagging the dog and also tend on one hand to say that there's too much teaching to the test while also claiming that if it's not tested, it's not taken seriously.

So, Mrs Morgan my messages to you are:

  • Ofqual is a non-political agency for a reason - they've consulted with interested parties, including government and the scientific community, so let's leave it to them
  • It's too late to change the A-levels - apart from Chemistry, they're all now finalised. Please don't expect them to be changed again.





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